New York city schools want to ban 'loaded words' from tests
"Dinosaur" is among the words New York CIty is looking to ban from tests, apparently over concerns it could bother creationists.
March 28th, 2012
07:19 PM ET

New York city schools want to ban 'loaded words' from tests

By Brian Vitagliano, CNN

New York (CNN) - Divorce. Dinosaurs, Birthdays. Religion. Halloween. Christmas. Television. These are a few of the 50-plus words and references the New York City Department of Education is hoping to ban from the city’s standardized tests.

The banned word list was made public – and attracted considerable criticism – when the city’s education department recently released this year’s "request for proposal" The request for proposal is sent to test publishers around the country trying to get the job of revamping math and English tests for the City of New York.

The Department of Education's says that avoiding sensitive words on tests is nothing new, and that New York City is not the only locale to do so. California avoids the use of the word "weed" on tests and Florida avoids the phrases that use "Hurricane" or "Wildfires," according to a statement by the New York City Department of Education.

In its request for proposal, the NYC Department of Education explained it wanted to avoid certain words if the "the topic is controversial among the adult population and might not be acceptable in a state-mandated testing situation; the topic has been overused in standardized tests or textbooks and is thus overly familiar and/or boring to students; the topic appears biased against (or toward) some group of people."

CNN's Belief Blog – all the faith angles to the day's top stories

Matthew Mittenthal, a spokesman for the NYC Department of Education, said this is the fifth year they have created such a list.  He said such topics "could evoke unpleasant emotions in the students."

"Dinosaurs" evoking unpleasant emotions? The New York Post speculated that the "dinosaurs" could "call to mind evolution, which might upset fundamentalists.”

But what the tabloid failed to realize is that those "fundamentalists" who oppose evolution on religious grounds, believe wholeheartedly in dinosaurs.

Young Earth creationists, or Biblical creationists as they prefer to be called, often point to dinosaurs in making their arguments.  They say dinosaurs and humans roamed Earth together, citing legends of dragons and say the fossil record shows the earth is 6,000 years old, though few paleontologists and geologists share this theory.

At the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, the heart of the Young Earth Creationism movement, dinosaur models and exhibits fill the museum displays and gift shop.

Follow the CNN Belief Blog on Twitter

Apparently many of the words on New York’s list were  avoided because of faith-based concerns.

For instance, the use of the word "birthday" or the phrase "birthday celebrations" may offend Jehovah's Witnesses, who do not celebrate birthdays. A spokesperson for the Jehovah's Witnesses declined to comment on the use of the word "birthday."

The Department of Education would not go on the record to explain the specific reasons for each word, which has left many to speculate and draw their own conclusions.

Halloween may suggest paganism; divorce may conjure up uneasy feelings for children in the midst of a divorce within their family. One phrase that may surprise many, the term "Rock 'n' Roll" was on the "avoid" list.

Piers Morgan's "Only in America": 50 banned words

And not good news for Italians: the Department of Education also advised avoiding  references to types of food, such as pepperoni, products they said "persons of some religions or cultures may not indulge in."

The Department of Education said, "This is standard language that has been used by test publishers for many years and allows our students to complete practice exams without distraction."

Stanford University Professor Sam Wineburg is an expert in the field of education and director of the Stanford History Education Group.

When reached by phone said Wineburg, after a brief pause on the line, "the purpose of education is to create unpleasant experiences in us. ... The Latin meaning if education is 'to go out.'  Education is not about making us feel warm and fuzzy inside."

Wineburg questioned the idea that the New York City Department of Education would want to "shield kids from these types of encounters."  He said the goal of education is to "prepare them," adding "this is how we dumb down public schools."

CNN's Eric Marrapodi contributed to this report.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Church and state • Education

soundoff (3,780 Responses)
  1. raforrester

    It is not the NYC Dept of Education that said that "dinosaur" might be offensive to creationists, it was the New York Post. The article says, "Dinosaurs" evoking unpleasant emotions? The New York Post speculated that the "dinosaurs" could "call to mind evolution, which might upset fundamentalists.”

    NYC said that one reason to ban a word is that "the topic has been overused in standardized tests or textbooks and is thus overly familiar and/or boring to students". Does anyone think there is a single child in the US who doesn't know the word "dinosaur"?

    March 31, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
  2. Reed Anson Forrester

    The article and almost all the comments seem to go overboard in interpreting the reasons for removing the words. First of all, it is not removing them from education, only from standardized tests, where ethnicity might give an advantage to some students. Secondly, one of the reasons to remove a word is "the topic has been overused in standardized tests or textbooks and is thus overly familiar and/or boring to students." I suspect that "dinosaur" falls into this category.

    So take a deep breath everyone. It is not the end of civilization as we know it.

    March 31, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
  3. asm_ith

    Are they going to start having warnings to parents before school trips to the Museum of Natural History because the kids might see or hear something about dinosaurs? Does the museum have to post a warning sign or get waivers before someone is allowed in? Do all references to "blood" have to be removed from everything so as not to offend the religious groups that don't believe in transfusions? How about censoring books, television, movies, etc., or at least requiring them to post warnings and get waivers?

    This is really stupid. It's one thing to tolerate reasonable differences among scientists. It's a totally different thing to pander to people who simply don't want to face the truth in spite of all evidence.

    March 31, 2012 at 3:03 pm |
  4. SEAL Team Alpha and Omega

    The words "Republican," "GOP," and "Tea Party" offends me and many others because such terms conjure up emotions and feekings of hate, bigotry, Nazis, and perpetual rule of the rich over the poor.

    March 31, 2012 at 2:58 pm |
  5. Glyph7

    The word "woman" offends me. Please remove it and any teachings about the mythological creatures from any tests.

    March 31, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
  6. chris

    So ...how will these things be described accurately without using those words?

    1) Divorce: "a marriage that is no more", "the reason the social worker is there when you see Daddy (or Mommy) ", " why you are sometimes called a mistake"

    2) Dinosaurs: "reptilian creatures that potentially existed during the Cretaceous, Triassic and Jurassic periods", "mythical creatures in Steven Spielberg films", "Esso Cousins"

    3) Birthdays: "The date XX was born is celebrated...", the day the stork brought XX", "the day God created you (or XX)"

    4) Religion: "a doctrine of man that is used to described the intentions of faith-based deities as a means of controlling others", " the Sunday Sojourn", "why you have to wear a suit on Easter", "the Saturday of little hats"

    5) Halloween: " a holiday in which children beg for candy in disguise so that neighbors will not be able to identify the truly hungry ones", "fun, fun, fun, day", "Egg and Toilet-paper Day"

    6) Christmas: " the day that our ancestors celebrated the winter harvest", " Lighted-tree Day", Jolly North Pole Day", "Commercialism Day", "Consumer Pride Day",

    7) Television: " the noise-making picture box", "The Babysitter", The Salesman", "The Truth"

    This is ridiculous – are we really so afraid to offend that we will resort to euphemisms to describe events in our culture that some feel we should be ashamed of? Give me a break!

    March 31, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
  7. Marsha

    I think that the next time the Mother Ship comes by to gather up all the wingnuts, a whole lot of people should give serious thought to getting on board. No more dinosaurs? Oh, spare me.

    March 31, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
  8. alleb/

    What about numbers? I am deeply offended by 0 (invented by Arabs), 10 (Bo Derek images), 69 (ying yang or whatever)., 8 (a sideways infinity) and many many (innumerable) more.

    March 31, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
  9. Prayer changes things

    Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things .

    March 31, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
    • Denise

      Abuse reported to CNN.

      March 31, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
  10. jlf

    maybe we should all become mute because no matter what we say, someone's feelings are coming to be hurt. they want to pick apart what we say, analyze it, and then try to turn our words against us because they choose to read something into what was said that ijust snt there.... "sticks and stones WON'T break my bones but words WILL hurt me'

    March 31, 2012 at 11:49 am |
  11. co

    No dinosaurs !? Sooooo......religious nut jobs (fundamentalists) should dictate how we educate children ? Sounds a lot like Afghanistan doesn't it ? What happened to the separation of church and state ?

    March 31, 2012 at 11:08 am |
    • Jdevil1735

      NO WHERE has it been said that any religious group asked or complained about these words. It is merely government PC crap gone overboard.

      March 31, 2012 at 11:39 am |
    • raforrester

      One of the reasons to ban words from a standardized test is that it is overused, boring, and everyone knows the word, and it is therefore not useful in finding out if you have been educated or not. Doesn't have to be offensive to anyone.

      March 31, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
    • Anon

      This reeks of religion since fundamentalists have highjacked the government.

      March 31, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
  12. Karrie

    This ban exists due to the culture of testing we have embraced to heartily in this country. Politics has put extreme pressure on schools to achieve higher and higher standardized test scores. New York wants to avoid any language on the test that might cause students to become unnecessarily distracted during the exam and, therefore, have lower test score. They are not "anti-language" they are "pro-high-scores" as the public has demanded them to be.

    March 31, 2012 at 10:24 am |
  13. Bill

    I wonder if the people who are banning "Dinosaur" from a standardized test really believe this is necessary or think it is insane (as it certainly is). Be careful though!!! The tree huggers might be offended by the paper the test is written on.......

    March 31, 2012 at 10:18 am |
    • Jdevil1735

      Well if they are going to ban some things – let's ban other works. Vegans – no meat, PETA – you can't use the word fur. This is insane – but then that's NY for you.

      March 31, 2012 at 11:42 am |
  14. Linda Luttrell

    Words fail to describe how ridiculous this is...

    March 31, 2012 at 9:55 am |
  15. Jeremiah

    I would definitively be a Liberal if it was not for all these far left Liberals pushing stuff too far!

    March 31, 2012 at 9:43 am |
  16. Angelica

    wow, only in America, maybe we should all adopt sign language.

    March 31, 2012 at 9:37 am |
    • Malevolution

      Except that some religious fantatic will be offended by the sign for 'I love you" because it looks too much like the heavy metal sign for the devil.

      March 31, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
  17. Jim

    Someone should give these m0r0ns something to do. It's obvious that they have too much free time.

    March 31, 2012 at 9:37 am |
  18. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    March 31, 2012 at 9:36 am |
    • Jim

      Not in the real world!

      March 31, 2012 at 9:37 am |
    • Adi

      I find Calvin Klein underwear models offensive, given their abnormally small packages. It invokes feelings of superiority and drunken power within me. but will it be taken off the market? Nope.

      March 31, 2012 at 10:13 am |
    • Allison

      Religion has proven for millennia to be extremely harmful to children and all living things.

      March 31, 2012 at 11:09 am |
    • just sayin

      Atheists have killed more people in the last 100 years than have been killed in all previous history.

      March 31, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
    • apostate


      That is actually false. Christians seem to forget their wholesale slaughter of natives in the Americas and Communism is not atheism.

      March 31, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
    • asm_ith

      "Prayer changes things"...yeah right...except for all the times that it doesn't. No one can show that anytime something happens which someone has prayed for is anything more than coincidence. When a prayer doesn't change things (which is almost all the time), saying things like "it's God's will" or "no one knows the mind of God" or other similar things is no explanation at all.

      March 31, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
  19. dan

    For the love of sanity!!!! If we banned everything that anyone might find offensive..shall we just grunt instead. Being sensitive to others beliefs is wonderfull, but we have gone so far overboard the depth may difficult to measure anymore.

    March 31, 2012 at 9:35 am |
    • Malevolution

      I find your proposal offensive. Grunting is a sound often made during the s exual act. And, as Christianity has made abundantly clear, the s exual act is evil.

      March 31, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
  20. chuck

    Yeah and I'd like to ban all idiots from running these schools

    March 31, 2012 at 9:15 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99 100 101 102 103 104 105 106
About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.